GENEVA, May 30, (RTRS): Britain is undergoing a subtle but alarming shift towards criminalising peaceful protest and free expression, said a UN report on Monday that likened it to a “Big Brother” state of surveillance and suspicion.
The highly critical report covers many policies overseen by Prime Minister Theresa May in her prior role as home secretary, Britain’s interior minister, and comes 10 days before a general election that polls say May could win with a narrow majority.
The report, dated May 24, was drawn up before the May 22 suicide bomb attack that killed 22 people at a Manchester pop concert, and makes no reference to it. That attack has prompted an internal review of how Britain’s security services handle intelligence on suspects.
Britain’s MI5 had identified bomber Salman Abedi as a possible radical but did not have him under surveillance, a source told Reuters. It is highly unusual for authorities to confirm an internal probe into possible security service lapses. Soon after the attack, Manchester police sources told Reuters they believed security in London — 250 kms (160 miles) to the south — had been prioritised while budget cutting in other cities saw police staff cut and career opportunities reduced.
A spokesman at Britain’s interior ministry declined to comment on the UN report, citing restrictions on the civil service during an election campaign period. Written by Maina Kiai, who was UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly until last month, the report said Britain’s civil society was a “national treasure” now at risk from police tactics, anti-terrorism legislation and curbs on charities and trade unions.
Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy, known as “Prevent”, was inherently fl awed, it said. “Overall, it appears that Prevent is having the opposite of its intended effect: by dividing, stigmatising and alienating segments of the population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it,” Kiai wrote. “Students, activists, and members of faith-based organisations related countless anecdotes of the program being implemented in a way that translates simply into crude racial, ideological, cultural and religious profiling, with concomitant effects on the right to freedom of association of some groups.” Britain’s security services cast the net far too wide in their hunt for potential terrorists, the UN report said.